Introducing the new Questions and Answers

Starting this week, I’ll be answering your questions on Lean and Lean Startup and how they can be applied to the public sector. I’ll also answer questions on wider subjects of business transformation and change management, although I expect most will relate to Lean in public sector and/or Lean Startup in existing organisations.

I’m assuming that any questions you ask me are public and can be posted on this site and publicly responded to. If you need a private response, let me know in the question and I’ll treat it so.

The idea behind this is to share some of my experiences, e.g. how I’ve overcome some of the typical obstacles to change or what to expect when transforming a public sector operation.

You can keep up-to-date with the questions and my answers by subscribing to the newsletter in the simple form below. Take the opportunity to ask a question in the form.

I hope you’ll join me in this.

thank you

Alan

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Lean Cost Benefit Analysis of a Quick Improvement

Kanban prototype for an NHS Acute service
Kanban prototype for an NHS Acute service
Kanban prototype for an NHS Acute service

Last week, I was provided with the short opportunity to improve a service within an NHS Acute Trust. I had 5 minutes to understand the problem and then I suggested a quick improvement. I’d like to take you through how we arrived at a solution and the resulting lean cost benefit analysis of that solution.

I don’t get that involved in the individual solutions anymore, instead I’m usually engaged for more strategic issues and end up mentoring others to make the changes across the whole organisation or enterprise. So it was fun to roll up my sleeves and suggest a solution that could work in a hospital. I fully expect the team to modify it to suit their specific needs and I’ll be on hand to help them improve it.

So let’s get to the calculations:

Lean cost benefit analysis

Analysis Investment

  • 5 minutes x 1 health professional explaining the problem
  • 5 minutes x 1 consultant listening to the problem
  • 5 minutes x 1 consultant developing a solution
  • 10 minutes x 1 consultant describing how the solution could work and what could be changed to make it more suitable
  • 15 minutes x 1 health professional understanding the solution
  • 1 x flipchart paper
  • 1 x pen

Potential Savings

  • 3.5 hours per day x 4 health professionals across a 5 day week = roughly 2,800 hours a year
  • The 3.5 hours is based on a reduction from 4 hours to 30 minutes for handover and prioritisation.
  • At roughly 1,400 working hours per year (based on 200 days per year and 7.5 hours per day), that equates to 2 FTE (full-time equivalent) posts saved per year.
  • So that could mean the service treating a lot more patients,  a potential cashable saving of roughly £70,000-£90,000 per year or – as is often more likely – a mix of the two

Not bad for a 15 minute session.

Practicalities

Implementation

The solution would need installing, but that’s the easy part. It would require some pens and a whiteboard or similar. That’s probably £200-£400 for a board and magnetic strip and counters plus £20-£50 per year for pens.

The implementation would usually rely on a critical core of the staff wanting to implement the change. In this case, by applying Lean Startup concepts, just one staff member could do it and then the others will learn about how it could affect their working lives and the impact on their patients.

What was the solution?

My suggestion was based on Lean, using a Kanban board. It relies on the principle of visual management. In this case, it’s easy to see at-a-glance where the work lies. It seemed a perfect fit for the problem. Due to the small amount of time spent with the service, there is a significant risk that the solution may not work for all the health professionals involved. I’d have liked more time with more of the team to mitigate this risk.

My aim was to improve flow. There was a blockage in the handover stage of the day and that’s what I wanted to eliminate. With more time, I’d have taken a more relaxed view of the entire process, involving other stakeholders, referring teams and teams that are being referred to. As it was, engaging with only one health professional, I focussed on what could be achieved quickest to remove the blockage.

The kanban board isn’t the end of the solution; it’s the start. I expect the therapists to find that the bulk of their work is being stuck in one or two stages or that they are not able to provide services to low priority cases. I don’t actually know what they’ll find, but that’s what I would be looking for. After the therapy team have been running the board for a week or two, they should be able to see patterns. Then they can act on those patterns.

Perspective

So which appeals more; the lean solution itself or the numbers in the lean cost benefit analysis?

From my perspective, they’re two sides of the same improvement and I teach analysts to remember both sides (and some others) when engaging with teams and their stakeholders.

Fundamentals of Process Mapping – Introducing Subprocesses Part 4

From what we have seen so far, we’d have 3 separate, but related process models. One for each of the following:

  • Buy a Book
  • Choose a Book
  • Pay for Book

Numbering the processes

Some of that was getting difficult to describe. The fact that Pay for Book is a process step in one diagram and a whole process was causing some difficulties in describing the relationship. I’d recommend reading through it again, slower this time, checking that you are certain which process step is being to referred to at each point.

Some standards help understanding by providing a key to each process step. The most common method is to assign a unique number to each process. The benefit of this is that you can define the process once (e.g. say we define “check stock level”) and then we can use it elsewhere as a process step (e.g. in an ordering, logistics or auditing processes).

Some standards help you navigate the hierarchy by assigning and set of numbers, e.g. everything at the top level has one number (1, 2, 3, 99, 123, etc). The next level down would have another point number so that all the process steps in process 1 would have numbers of 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and those in process 3 would have 3.1, 3.2. Down another level and we’d see labels such 1.1.1, 1.3.4 and 4.3.5. This does lean towards a parent-child relationship between processes. Not necessarily bad, but I prefer more freedom.

The more levels and the greater the complexity, the greater the need for a naming convention.

Reuse

By allowing processes to appear in other process maps, they can be reused. For instance, theScan Book process step above could be used elsewhere, e.g. to retrieve information about a book such as how many are in stock, price, different versions, etc. The process step would be the same in all processes.

Common Mistakes

  • The Process Start in a subprocess doesn’t relate to any process step in any other process map. So you’d never actually use this process.
  • The process overlaps with the previous or next process in the chain – as we saw earlier with the Scan Book process step.
  • The Process Ends (i.e. the outcomes of a process) for the subprocesses aren’t reflected in the higher-level processes.
  • Change in process mapping methods – giving a process step to a different analyst can result in that process step being described using different methods or no standards. This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but should be considered before responsibility for process mapping is delegated.

Why 3 Levels?

You don’t have to have 3 levels, they suited the early part of this article. It’s a common concept in a lot of domains. In Data-modelling, the hierarchy of Conceptual, Logical and Physical data models has long proved beneficial. Closer to the process domain, Alistair Cockburn was promoting multiple levels of Use Cases almost a decade ago.

When do you stop going smaller?

When everyone understands the process step without having to ask any questions.

For many clients, two levels is sufficient for the process analysts to be involved in; a high-level mapping of all the processes, then a more detailed view of each process. a 3rd level may be created for the more complex processes that require more analysis. Developers are likely to look for further detail, so either another level or different diagramming technique can be used.

Recap

  1. A process step can be described in more detail in its own process map
  2. Processes can be re-used in more than one process
  3. Process maps should contain sufficient information to relate to each other – using the Process Starts and Process Ends
  4. Different readers will have different ideas of how much detail they want to see
  5. The different levels of process maps can be used for different audiences
  6. As the number of processes and levels increases, the greater the need for a naming convention

Next Article

Notice that Buy a Book was written from the buyer’s perspective whereas Pay For Book was written from the Bookseller’s perspective. We’ll discuss how to handle that in the next article.

Which Diagram type?

All the diagrams above could be process maps. In some cases, especially with mapping the flow of user-interfaces, then UML Sequence Diagrams can be more useful than Activity Diagrams. I’ll explain why in a later article.

This is an article in the Fundamentals of Process Mapping online book provided by Alan Ward

Fundamentals of Process Mapping – Introducing Subprocesses Part 3

In the previous diagram, I’ve put two crosses, not part of any standard. I’ve used them to highlight what’s wrong with the Choose Book process as depicted above. The second of the crosses is easiest to explain.

The process step of Scan Book more properly belongs in the Pay for Book process. We can see it in the Pay For Book process, so let’s keep it there. If it’s also in the Choose Book process, then we’re duplicating actions. Someone following the overall process in the diagram above would end up scanning books twice. That’s not right.

The cross on Take to Pay Desk is more awkward and shows where we cross the boundary between science and art. Does Take to Pay Desk belong more to selecting a book or paying for it? My view is that it should be in Pay for Book. Since the book is chosen at the point that the customer picks up the book. Anything after that (apart from putting it back in the bookrack again) is beyond the scope of choosing a book. Two other scenarios come to mind that reinforce the fact that it’s in the wrong process above:

  • if they were going to steal the book, they wouldn’t take it to Pay Desk.
  • if they were going to read the book in the store, as is getting a lot more common-place in the UK, they wouldn’t need to take it to the Pay Desk.

In both the above scenarios, the process of Choose Book would still be relevant. In the second scenario, the customer would still have followed the Choose Book process.

I’ve simplified the diagram by removing the Take to Pay Desk and Scan Book process steps and inserting the Take to Pay Desk process step in the Pay for Book process.

Remember: you won’t see the processes on the same page. That’s just so I can present the relationships between them.

Process Mapping Fundamentals – Introducing Subprocesses Part 2

If you look at the Pay for Book process-step in the top row of the above image, you’ll notice I’ve included a small image of the Pay for Book process. The use of colours is just to help me show how the processes fit together here. It’s incredibly rare to have the process and the more detailed process on the same page. In fact, I can’t ever remember doing that apart from when I’m showing the relationships between processes in articles such as this one.

I mentioned that the Process Starts and Process Ends are the glue because the detailed process (the lower one in the above diagram) should be able to fit into the main process (the upper one in the above diagram). It should do this without overlapping into any other process steps. Choose Book will also have its own detailed process map.

Here’s an incorrect example highlighting Choose Book and Pay For Book.

That Choose Book process relates to the Choose Book process step. Actually, maybe I should state that the Choose Book process is the Choose Book process step. It’s the same thing, just different views of it. One view shows more detail than the other.

Process Mapping Fundamentals – Introducing Subprocesses Part 1

Introduction

Processes can be broken down into more detailed processes. In this article, I’ll take one of the process steps from the previous article and look in more detail about how it connects to the other components of the process.

Some Perspective

A key feature of any workflow system is that you should be able to look at the system from different levels, e.g. a director’s view of the system may only show 5 or so process steps and cover what it takes 10-200 people or more to perform. A user’s workflow will probably require several process maps, each relating to the different processes that they perform on a daily basis and some that are less frequent. The solution’s workflow could feature many process maps, perhaps describing the user interfaces and the core system’s interfaces with external solutions.

Each map communicates to its intended audience. That means that we, as analysts, have to write for that audience. Fortunately they all follow the same basic principles. They should all relate to each other, if they don’t, then there’s a gap that needs to be addressed.

Using the 3 levels above, we should be able to look at the director’s level process model and delve into the process steps. Say we look at the process step 1 in that model, we should be able to find a user-level process model that shows us the detail of that step. Similary when looking at the user-level process model, we should be able to look any process step and see more detail in the process described in the solution workflow.

So how do the processes fit together?

The first point to understand is that most process steps can be a processes in their own right, usually with more detail. Rather than have all that detail on every diagram, it’s more common to display a box for the process step and that refers to a more detailed process map for that step.

Let’s take the Buy a Book process from the previous example and work through that.

The Pay For Book process step includes a number of its own steps when it’s viewed as a process. We’ll take a very simple concept of paying by cash. The same principles apply to paying by credit card, just that there’s more involved in that process.


Like all of these processes, real-life is more complex. For instance, scanning the book would display the price on the till. There’s also more happening with process cash payment, e.g. what about giving change back? I’ve changed to yellow just so it’s easier to show the different levels in the following diagram.

The glue is the Process Start and Process End points. These connect to other processes.

Note the name of the Process Start? It’s the same text as the process step in the original Buy A Book process. When reading Buy a Book, you may want more detail about Pay for Book, so look for the process model entitled Pay For Book and it should have one Process Start with the same name. The End point again assumes that the process has been completed. If we were looking at more detail, it could be that the buyer couldn’t pay and so didn’t purchase a book. For the moment, we’ll leave that outcome.

Process Mapping – Introducing Decision Points

In the previous article, I introduced a basic process map consisting of a process start point, a process end point, two process steps and connectors.

It’s rare that a process map is a straight line like that simplified process. There are usually options which can take the process down different paths.

In the case of our book-buying process, we may want to ask the customer if they want the book gift-wrapped as part of free promotion.

Decision Points
The most common symbol for a decision point is a diamond (or a rhombus for the pedants out there). Similar to the process steps, the decision point is linked by a connector into the diamond. The difference is that the decision point should have at least two connectors coming out. It’s generally best to label each connectors with the outcome that it represents, otherwise the reader is guessing which outcome they’re looking at.

So back to the gift-wrap example.

As you can see, I’ve added the following items to the previous diagram:

  • Decision point of Gift-wrap
  • Outcome of Yes
  • Outcome of No
  • Gift-wrap Book process step

It could be that there are more outcomes from the decision point. Or that the decision point leads to another decision point, e.g. Red or Blue wrapping paper? More complex would be that some points are only available.

Notation
I’ve already mentioned the common use of a diamond for the decision point and that outcomes should be labelled. In addition, the text inside the Decision Point should be a question. And the outcome labels should be appropriate as answers to that question. Sometimes we have to abbreviate the responses due to space. Bear in mind it’s all about communication, so think whether the readers will understand the abbreviated labels.

Ideally I’d have had a longer label for the decision point in the above example. My excuse is that I’m creating the maps on desktop software, then having to export in a way that works for this website. That’s not the way I’d normally work, since I’d usually use the process modelling software that the client has bought into. I could still get a longer label but the process map suffices to show how decisions are depicted.

You may also see a decision point duplicated at the end of the options. i.e. the process would show a decision point, then the options/outcomes, then bring them all back to a further decision point (often empty). This just shows that the decisions have been resolved and that there’s only the one path forward from that point on. This depends on the modelling standard you subscribe to.


Here’s an example of that. I find that the additional decision point can confuse less-technical, more business-oriented readers. It also takes up more space on the screen or paper. So I tend not to use it that often or until a project is at a more technical stage.

The Most Common Mistake
The most common mistake I see in process mapping is that there aren’t enough outcomes in the process map. The analyst may have assumed that the answer is yes or no. Often there are other outcomes, e.g. don’t know, timed-out, incorrect response, didn’t understand the response. It becomes more of an art than a science as to how many of these outcomes are included. Bear in mind that as more time passes and the project moves forward, then more of those outcomes should be documented.

Note the Ending
In the case of the gift-wrap example, the Process End is the same ‘Book Bought’ whichever outcome is taken from the decision point. That suits us because the Process of Buying a Book is still completed, regardless of whether the customer wants the giftwrap or not. It is possible to have different endings depending on the outcomes inside the process, we’ll get to that later.

Is that sufficient?
In short, no. It’s a start. Some of the first few steps in the process mapping journey. There is more to learn. For instance, we’re not depicting who does what, what else they do, the details of paying for a book, or even what happens if we charge for the gift-wrapping. I stated it was a free promotion earlier since it allows us to focus on the decision point itself. I also want to go into more detail about how process steps relate to processes.

Checklist for decision points

  • Is the symbol noticeably different from process steps or other items? (actually not necessary, but very worthwhile if the process modelling tool allows it and most diagramming tools do).
  • Do the decision point have enough outcomes?
  • Is there a label on each outcome?
  • Does every decision point have a question as its label?
  • Do the outcome labels relate the decision point question?
  • Do all the outcomes connect to other items? (e.g. process step, process end, decision point)

Modelling Standards
I mentioned Modelling Standard above. I refer to standards such as BPMN or UML, specifically UML activity diagrams. In this series, we are starting with basic examples, moving towards depicting models conforming to those standards. The main thrust is to get the basics right and point out some of the common mistakes along the way. Watch out for different terminology, in BPMN the decision points are referred to as Gateways.

Process Mapping Basics

Introduction

This is the first article in the Fundamentals of Process Mapping series. In the series, I want to discuss the areas that most process mapping tutorials miss.

In this bite-sized article, I’ll introduce the idea of a basic process map.

Let’s get some background about process mapping first.

What is a process map?
A process map is a tool. It is not an end in its own right. They are often used in software development lifecycle or within Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). If the methodology you’re working in states that one is required, you’re not writing a map just to fulfill that aim, but because the creators of that methodology realised that a process map would be a useful tool to have.

I see a process as one component of a process description, not necessarily the only component. That’s worth remembering.

What are the purposes of a process map?

I have at least four aims when I’m process mapping:

  1. To describe a process in pictorial form
  2. To provide a quick way of understanding how the main steps in a process fit together
  3. To provide documentation for agreeing what happens in a process
  4. To provide documentation for what could happen in a process, e.g. process improvement

There are other aims depending on the need, e.g. for collaborative working, facilitating workshops. Whatever the discrete aims are, they all boil down to communication.

What are the components of a process map?
Every process has at least one process step, at least one starting point and at least one ending point. The process step is an action that is performed by an actor (either a person, a system or an organisation).

Our initial basic process will have the following:

  • one starting point
  • two process steps
  • one end point
  • connectors showing the direction of flow


For the process map here starts at Process Start, continues to Process Step 1. Once that is complete, continue to Process Step 2. Once that is complete, continue to Process End and the process is terminated.

To put that into context, imagine a simplified process for buying a book in a bookstore.

The customer wants to buy a book, so process start (Buy a Book), customer Chooses a Book, then Customer Pays for Book. Once that’s complete, the Book is bought. I’ve simplified it so we can discuss it in more detail later on.

Notation
Your software may have different notation for process start/initiators, process ends/terminators and process steps (often just called processes). That’s ok. As long as you can tell the difference between them.

What Next?
That’s the very basics covered. I’ll go into more detail about processes, process steps, decision points and common pitfalls in the following articles in the series.

Fundamentals of Process Mapping

I’ve written before about the elements involved in a process map. In this series of articles, I want to start at the basics and explain what a process map should contain. I’ve seen a fair few methodologies come and go. Fortunately, methodology seems to be settling down with a few interesting branches appearing. I’ve also seen and used a lot of different process mapping tools at different levels, some more like CASE tools, some more like business process management tools, some just diagramming tools.

The aims of this series
I want to work with better-written process descriptions. I want to pass on best-practice as I’ve seen it after working with a lot of process and business analysts. I’ll discuss why following the methodology is not enough on its own, nor is just creating process maps on their own.

I am not writing against any software lifecycle methodologies, any project frameworks nor am I saying one tool is better than another (although I may touch on that). What I will provide are tips for improving the process analyses that you create regardless of which tool, methodology or framework.

Why am I writing this series?
As part of my BPR activities, I’ve received a lot of process descriptions that are not detailed enough, not internally consistent, not wide enough in scope, have gaps in them…in short, not good enough. It doesn’t matter to me who did the analysis, what counts is that someone (maybe the same person) is going to have to do more work to get it up to scratch.

If the work isn’t improved, then it causes problems further down the line. Some examples of the problems caused:

  • increase in customer complaints because agents can’t handle their questions
  • having to hire in more people as process gaps are identified
  • having longer queuing times because the the time taken to complete the process was underestimated, based on too simple a view of the process.
  • delay to process implementation while the correct level of detail is captured
  • stakeholder conflict as the invalid process maps highlight distrust between the operational teams and the process improvement teams

I’d prefer it if the process descriptions were defined properly in the first place. So please, distribute this.

Lean or Lean Startup

There’s a lot of hype around Lean Startup for at least the last year. The positive thing is that much of this hype is well-deserved; the concepts have changed the thinking of a lot of its readers. Having a foot in both camps as a lean practitioner improving services and organisations and as an entrepreneur roughly adhering to the Lean Startup method, I think it’s important that we are all clear on the difference between the concept of the lean startup method and lean organisation.

I like a lot of the concepts in The Lean Startup written by Eric Ries. However, from viewing social media conversations and articles, it appears that a lot of readers are confused as to what the focus is. It’s not about about creating a lean organisation (i.e. an organisation that operates in a lean manner). Instead it concerns creating an organisation in a lean manner, using a methodology analogous to Lean, itself largely based on TPS (Toyota Production System). The book doesn’t reflect how the organisation will operate. Fortunately, you would expect an organisation that was built using lean methods to have a better change of being lean itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily follow.

Now, enter The Lean Entrepreneur by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits which is just going through pre-release. From the table of contents, this book does appear to discuss creating an organisation that will operate in a lean manner. While this is something that I would tend to do naturally, I look forward to reading the book and understanding how other people would approach the same challenge.